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Giving the Old Platform a New Lease on Life: The Unintended Effect of Backward Compatibility on Platform Adoption Decisions


  • Il-Horn Hann

    () (Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland)

  • Byungwan Koh

    () (Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary)

  • Marius F. Niculescu

    () (Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology)


We investigate the impact of backward compatibility on the adoption of multi-generation platforms. Our context is a mobile platform where platform users download services from third party providers. For each hardware platform generations, the services depend greatly on the embedded functionality. Newer handsets are backward compatible with respect to services. We develop a model to identify several drivers of adoption of subsequent generations of handsets, which include (i) the migration from older to newer generations of handsets, (ii) the relationship between services and handset users, and (iii) backward compatibility effect of handsets with respect to older generation services. Our main finding is that the backward compatibility effect has a perhaps unintended consequence; the continued use of older generation services on newer generation handsets provides a fresh lease on life for older generation handsets. This 'shot in the arm' for older generation handsets effect is due to the users who remain on or adopt an older generation platform instead of adopting a newer generation platform.

Suggested Citation

  • Il-Horn Hann & Byungwan Koh & Marius F. Niculescu, 2012. "Giving the Old Platform a New Lease on Life: The Unintended Effect of Backward Compatibility on Platform Adoption Decisions," Working Papers 12-17, NET Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:net:wpaper:1217

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    Multi-generation diffusion; technology platform ecosystems; lease on life; network economics; backward compatibility;

    JEL classification:

    • L86 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Information and Internet Services; Computer Software
    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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